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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is Barack Obama Flip Flopping On NAFTA?

Barack Obama flip flopping? NO!!! Tell me it isn't so!!!

In February,2008, Obama sent out a mailer which stated that Hillary Clinton was for NAFTA and Obama had always been against it. Fortune Magazine conducted an interview with Obama where he seems to admit his NAFTA talk during the primary, was "rhetoric"
NAFTA was an expansion of the earlier Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1988. NAFTA is a treaty under international law, though under United States law, it is classed as a congressional-executive agreement rather than a treaty. (Reference)

Back in March when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were fighting for the Democratic nomination for presidency, they both had some very harsh words about NAFTA, in a Democratic debate (transcript here) which was reported on extensively, because of controversy suggesting that the campaign's for both candidates were having discussions with involved countries telling them that their harsh words on NAFTA was "political positioning" and not to be taken seriously.

Barack Obama's words in that debate were, "I will make sure we renegotiate. I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced."

In February, before that debate, Barack Obama had sent out a mailer which said, "Only Barack Obama consistently opposed NAFTA", the mailer continued on to say, "A little more than a year ago, Hillary Clinton thought NAFTA was a 'boon' to the economy."

(NAFTA Mailer from Obama Campaign-Ohio Daily Blog)

Fortune Magazine has conducted an interview with Barack Obama, which will be shown in full in their upcoming issue, but they spoke to him about his NAFTA positions and they headline their piece, "Obama: NAFTA not so bad after all".

In the interview the report says that Barack Obama backed off of his harshest attacks on the free trade agreement and when the interviewer reminded him of that he had called NAFTA "devastating" and "a big mistake," even after nonpartisan studies had shown it has a mildly positive effect on the U.S economy, Obama said, "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified."

The interview asks if that means that Obama's rhetoric was overheated and amplified and he responded with, "Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton claims that Obama has not changed his core position on NAFTA.

Nevertheless, Obama's tone stands in marked contrast to his primary campaign's anti-NAFTA fusillades. The pact creating a North American free-trade zone was President Bill Clinton's signature accomplishment; but NAFTA is also the bugaboo of union leaders, grassroots activists and Midwesterners who blame free trade for the factory closings they see in their hometowns.

The Democratic candidates fought hard to win over those factions of their party, with Obama generally following Hillary Clinton's lead in setting a protectionist tone.

This issue and report by Fortune Magazine has caused a heavily pro-Obama website, Huffington Post, to criticize his most recent stance on NAFTA, saying that Obama cannot talk "out of both sides of his mouth on this issue."

(Obama campaign mailer about NAFTA- Photo-Ohio Daily Blog)

Clearly, Fortune breathlessly overstates what's going on here (which is typical of "journalist" Nina Easton), and I think Obama could be solid on trade. However, I'd still say this really shows the persistent power of Big Money over Obama and the Democratic Party. Here you have a policy - NAFTA - that is among the most unpopular policies of the last generation, according to polls. This is a policy that is one of the key catalysts in today's populist uprising on both the Right and Left. Here you have a candidate who campaigned against it in the primary. And within weeks of getting the general election, here you have that same candidate running to Corporate America's magazine of record to vaguely reassure Wall Street about that same policy.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spoke harshly about NAFTA publicly, in the debate transcript linked above and as evidenced by the Obama campaign mailer sent out in February of 2008, but John McCain has always been consistent in his support of NAFTA, which was Bill Clinton's "signature accomplishment", as phrased in the Fortune Magazine article.

Fortune also mentions McCain's harsh words about Barack Obama at a press conference in Boston this week, where he said, "Senator Obama said that he would unilaterally - unilaterally! - renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, where 33 percent of our trade exists. And you know what message that sends? That no agreement is sacred if someone declares that as president of the United States they would unilaterally renegotiate it. I stand for free trade, and with all the difficulties and economic troubles we're in today, there's a real bright spot and that's our exports. Protectionism does not work."

From Barack Obama's words in this Fortune interview, perhaps John McCain and Barack Obama actually agree now on the issue.... to a point.

(The mailer shown as images in this article was sent to the writer of the Ohio Daily Blog)

[Update] 6/19/08- Obama did a nice little back flip regarding public financing as well. Despite his pledge, he announced that he opted out of it.